With the help of Pure Paradise Pets, the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) removed 20 reptiles, including a three-and-a-half-foot-long American alligator, from a two-bedroom apartment at 1467 Warwick Avenue last week.
Joseph Warzycha, the animal cruelty investigator for SPCA, said the reptiles were in inadequate living conditions, as the alligator was located in a bathtub, while 10 non-venomous pythons and boa constrictors ranging in size from six inches to 12 feet long, four turtles, three leopard geckos, and two exotic lizards, including a bearded dragon and a water monitor, were in unkempt enclosures.
One of the snakes had to be taken to a veterinarian, as it had a large abscess on its face.
The animals, owned by Sean Butler, were found when police responded to reports of domestic violence. They were removed from the apartment last Thursday after the owner signed them over to the SPCA, which granted Pure Paradise Pets in Johnston the rights.
“It’s a very knowledgeable reptile facility,” said Warzycha. “Generally speaking, I would say the animals were in fair condition. There’s probably going to be some long-term rehab to get them back to where they should be.”
Domenic Parisella, who has owned and operated the pet store since 1987, approximated that 75 percent of the reptiles were malnourished and dehydrated. His staff bathed the snakes in a warm electrolyte solution to bring them back to health.
“We had to make about 20 gallons of the solution,” he said. “Out of all the animals that were confiscated, we’re not going to be losing any of them. None of them are going to die because we can rehabilitate every single one.”
Seeing the reptiles in such “disgusting” conditions angered him, as he is an animal lover. But his main concern was to give them immediate and proper care.
And he knows all about caring for exotic animals, as he owns an eight-foot alligator, Sludge. He keeps Sludge, who has the potential to grow up to about 10 feet, in a 3,000-gallon pound.
“If you house them right, they stay healthy,” he said.
Parisella plans to keep the rescued alligator, Chomper, as well.
“He’ll stay at the pet store with me so people can see him and say, ‘Hi,’” said Parisella. “He had an injury to his leg.”
Parisella is keeping a majority of the other reptiles, too, including a water monitor. He owns an identical one, and intends to house it in the same enclosure.
“If they get along, he’ll stay in my display,” Parisella said.
The water monitor, Warzycha said, looks like a giant salamander. Possession requires a permit, as do alligators. A red-eared slider, a turtle that is illegal to own in Rhode Island, as well as a snapping turtle, which are not allowed as pets, were also rescued.
“It was taken to the wildlife clinic [last week] in hopes that they’ll release it,” said Warzycha.
While the SPCA had enough evidence to charge Butler criminally, they decided not to as a means to save the animals. They opted to transport them as quickly as possible and place them in a good environment.
“I hate to use it as an excuse, but charging him would have made it difficult because we would have had to seize the animals, bring them to the ASPCA and hold them during the duration of the criminal investigation,” said Warzycha. “We’re not equipped to handle those types and of that quantity. These cases sometimes go on for months and months.”
Warzycha said that a law passed this year states animals must be kept in sanitary environments that promote their health and well-being. Enclosures must allow them normal rest, comfortable posture and range of movement. Proper lighting conditions are also required.
Butler disregarded these stipulations. Warzycha said one of the turtles was in a tank containing water that was “so filthy” he couldn’t tell there was an animal in it.
“There were clear violations for all of the animals,” he said. “He had six snakes in one enclosure. They were living on top of each other because there wasn’t enough room for them. None of them should have to live like that.”
Dr. Scott Marshall, Rhode Island’s state veterinarian, said that since Butler surrendered them to the SPCA, he doubts the state will take regulatory action. Aside from being dangerous species, Marshall said alligators and water monitors require permits because they potentially are threats to the environment or may carry diseases that can be transmitted to native animals.
“Is an alligator that’s a foot long dangerous? Probably not,” said Marshall, who recommended the SPCA contact the pet store for assistance. “But some people don’t have a plan for what they are going to do with it when it’s four or five feet long and they outgrow their enclosure and are too big and powerful to handle. We worry that they are going to dump them by throwing them in a river or pond, which is a public health and safety issue.”
He also said doing so is an act of animal cruelty. These types of reptiles cannot survive New England winters if not cared for properly.
“Alligators belong in the south,” he said. “They don’t belong in Rhode Island.”
But when housed correctly, said Parisella, they can be great pets. He only sells alligators and certain lizards to individuals with proper permits.
When’s he’s not at the pet store, Parisella is conducting presentations at schools and birthday parties for children. He is thinking about taking Chomper, who he estimates is about 4 years old, to events.
Parisella also donates to Johnston and North Providence charities, as he established his business in North Providence before relocating to Johnston. He recently held a motorcycle run and raised money for homeless animals.
“We’re very active in our community,” he said.
Butler, who for the third time was charged with domestic assault, did not respond to a call. According to a police report, he allegedly grabbed his wife by the arms while his girlfriend struck her in the face.